by Giles Fraser
Friday, 6
December 2019
Seen Elsewhere
15:00

Labour plans to squeeze out religious education

Jeremy Corbyn visits Islington school children. Credit: Getty

The closest I have ever been to religious fundamentalism was at university when I flirted with being a member of the Socialist Workers Party. We would stand on street corners alongside other more obviously religious evangelists. Like them, we would have our core texts from which we drew inspiration. And like them we would insist upon doctrinal purity — which would sometimes tip over into a kind of heresy hunting. Marxism a jealous god, and looks with barely concealed hostility on other creeds and their followers.

Which is why I share the suspicion of the blogger Archbishop Cranmer when he points out that the Labour Manifesto can be read as seeking to downgrade the place that Christianity has in our education system. At present, the law states that:

“Religious Education shall reflect the fact that the religious traditions in Great Britain are in the main Christian, whilst taking account of the teaching and practices of the other principal religions represented in Great Britain.”
- Archbishop Cranmer

Given the difficulty that exists in recruiting properly qualified RE teachers, I suspect this law is more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Nonetheless, the Labour position seems to be that RE lessons should give up on religious studies and become something more like sociology. In the “Race and Faith” section of their manifesto they say they will:

“Review the curriculum to ensure that it enriches students and covers subjects such as racism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and black history and continues to teach issues like the Holocaust.”

Unsurprisingly, there is no mention here of Christian persecution – probably the most persecuted group in the world today. And ignoring the ludicrous and sinister spectacle of the current Labour party getting to define anti-Semitism for the school curriculum, it makes no sense for students to study Islamophobia, for instance, before they have understood even the basics of Islam. Moreover, the idea that race is the best lens through which to understand religion easily distorts faith into just another version of identity politics.

I wonder if this position originates in the often made justification for religious education that it is an important way for “communities” to understand each other. Following this logic, why not indeed just cut out the theology and concentrate on the community relations. But if that’s the aim, fine: just call the class Citizenship, or something like that.

Reading Race and Faith it’s hard not to conclude that Labour thinks of religious education – and of religion in general – as some sort of dead space that needs to be repurposed for more enlightened purposes.

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